Authors: Gary Smalley,Dan Walsh
Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC008000, #FIC045000
arilyn pulled her car into a back parking lot, behind the row of stores that occupied the north side of Main Street. She smiled as she read the sign: Employee Parking. That’s who she was, an employee. She lifted her purse off the passenger seat and closed the door, looking for another sign . . . the back entrance to Odds-n-Ends.
As she walked toward the door, she tried to remember the last time she’d worked for someone other than Jim. It had to be over twenty-five years ago, before Tom was born. Jim had insisted she quit her job when she was six months pregnant. They had both wanted her to be a stay-at-home mom, although outside the high-society circles they belonged to, it was mostly frowned upon. She was grateful Jim’s job had made it possible.
The trouble had begun years later, when all three kids were gone most of the day to a private school. After doing every chore and errand she could think of, she’d sit around bored out of her mind until they came home. By then, Jim’s business was booming, and they had moved several notches up the social ladder. This included leaving their old church to join one with a
more prestigious clientele. That’s how it felt to Marilyn anyway. Every relationship and social connection they formed seemed to revolve around Jim’s business.
Had he ever once asked her where she would like to attend church or what kind of friends she might want to have over? Of course not. She also knew that never standing up to him had actually fed his self-centered outlook on life.
She remembered a TV commercial slogan: “Image Is Everything.” That could have been the Anderson family motto. Jim had turned down her repeated appeals to get a job, even one that ensured she’d be home when the kids got home from school. In recent years, with Tom married, Michele in college, and Doug in high school, he had still turned her down. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he’d said, with that polite harshness he was famous for. When she’d pressed him further, he finally snapped, “No wife of mine is going to work in a retail store!”
Well, she didn’t have to put up with his harshness anymore. And I never should have, she thought. But it was so hard to confront him. She hated confrontation in general, with anyone. But especially with Jim. A fierce expression would instantly come over his face, and before she’d finish what she was trying to say, he’d overwhelm her with a barrage of words, making her feel stupid for even bringing up the matter. Then later he’d make her pay for it, ignoring her for hours.
She sighed and tried to shake off these dark thoughts as she rang the doorbell beside the steel door. Looking at her watch, she was relieved to see she was ten minutes early. Feeling nervous and excited, she stepped back when she heard footsteps coming.
“Hi, Marilyn, so glad you’re here. Come on in.” It was Harriet, the store owner. She stepped aside to let Marilyn by, then
closed the door and said, “Follow me. You can put your things in our little employee room here.” She turned in to the first doorway on the left. “It’ll just be you and me until eleven-thirty. Emma will be coming in then to help with the lunch crowd.”
Marilyn had never seen Harriet without a smile. She had gray hair, nicely styled. If Marilyn guessed right, she was in her midsixties, but she carried herself with the energy level of someone much younger.
“I’ve got your name badge right here,” Harriet said, handing it to her. “I’m going to go open the front door. Customers will start trickling in. I’ll man the register. You can just wander around the store, greet customers, and study the merchandise. After a week or so, believe me, you’ll know where everything is. But for now, if someone asks for something you can’t find, just tell them you’ll go check, then come ask me. If there are no customers in the store, come on over to the counter, and I’ll start showing you how to use the cash register.”
“Sounds great, Harriet.” Harriet left to unlock the front door. “And thanks so much for giving me this job,” Marilyn added.
“You are most welcome. Glad to have you with us.”
And that was how Marilyn spent the next two hours at her first job in twenty-five years. She couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable environment. It was one of her favorite shops in the downtown area. The whole store was filled with wonders. Charming knickknacks, a wide variety of ceramic collectibles, artsy greeting cards, humorous gifts and signs, a wall full of prints done by local artists, and a separate Christmas room stocked with over two hundred ornaments, miniature houses, and nativity figurines. All the while, the most pleasant and soothing music played in the background.
Every now and then a chime sounded, signaling a customer
had come into the store. But really, over the first two hours, that chime didn’t ring often, which allowed Harriet to cover cash register basics with Marilyn. This came in handy at eleven o’clock, when the back doorbell rang.
“Do you think you can handle the register for about ten minutes?” Harriet asked. “It’s one of the delivery trucks. He’s not supposed to come until after lunch. Guess he arrived early.”
“I think so,” Marilyn said. At the moment, no customers were in the store. She hoped it stayed that way.
Less than five minutes later, the front door chimed. Marilyn froze as she saw who came in. It was Sophie Mitchell with another woman she didn’t recognize. Sophie was a long-standing member of the church she and Jim had attended the last ten years. Marilyn had never liked her. Mainly because she was a snob and seemed to enjoy manipulating and intimidating people.
True to form, Marilyn suddenly found herself wanting to hide. For a moment, she thought about taking off her name tag and pretending to be just another shopper in the store. But she had to stay behind the register.
She kept her eyes on Sophie and her friend for the next five minutes as they strolled leisurely through the store aisles, picking up this thing or that. They seemed to be having a marvelous time. During those moments, Marilyn got hold of herself. She decided she didn’t care what Sophie thought. Why should she feel embarrassed working at a retail store, or anywhere else for that matter? She needed the money because of her . . . new circumstances. But even if she didn’t, she was enjoying herself. She’d been wanting to work here for months.
Finally, Sophie appeared from the last aisle in the store, carrying one of the many collectible angels, and headed toward
the cash register. She was still talking with her friend when she looked up and saw Marilyn. A startled look came over her face. She looked up and down, as if to persuade herself that she really was seeing Marilyn Anderson standing behind the cash register. Her eyes zeroed in on Marilyn’s name tag. “Marilyn,” she said as she set the figurine on the counter. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m working here. Just started today, as a matter of fact.”
“Really.” Sophie’s eyes widened, forming little wrinkles on her forehead. She quickly recovered and forced a smile. “How nice.”
“Sophie,” her friend said, “I think I’m going to go back and get that other angel we were looking at.” She walked back to the last aisle.
Sophie leaned over the counter and said quietly, “I heard Jim’s business has been struggling lately, from things Harold said.” She left the next sentence unspoken, but Marilyn was sure it was supposed to be,
But I had no idea things were this bad
. Harold was Sophie’s husband. He served on the deacon board with Jim, and they occasionally golfed together.
“Actually, Sophie,” Marilyn replied in the same quiet tone, “me working here has nothing to do with Jim’s business. It’s something I wanted to do. And I might as well tell you—you’re going to find out soon enough—Jim and I are separated.”
The look on Sophie’s face was priceless.
Just then, her friend came back with her angel. “Will that be all for you ladies?” Marilyn said. She rang up their purchases, hoping she did everything right at the register. Not another word was said. At least not until the two women exited the store. Immediately after, Marilyn saw Sophie through the front window, her mouth moving a mile a minute, certainly filling her friend in on the news.
Harriet came walking from the back hallway, carrying a small stack of boxes. “So how did your first sale go at the register?”
“I think it went . . . just fine,” Marilyn said, smiling. A few lines from that song “Something to Talk About” began playing in her head.
or the past two hours, Jim had been roaming the streets and apartment parking lots throughout River Oaks in search of Marilyn’s car. It seemed absurd that he hadn’t found it yet. He began to wonder if she might have lied about staying somewhere in town.
His search had brought him back to Main Street, where he was now stopped at a traffic light. Two well-dressed, middle-aged women crossed the intersection in front of his car. At first, he didn’t recognize them. When they reached the sidewalk, one of them turned and hurried back to his car, waving.
“Jim Anderson,” she said. “I thought that was you.” She talked so loudly, he heard her through his closed windows. It was Sophie Mitchell, his friend Harold’s wife. He could stomach time spent with Harold, as long as they had a round of golf between them. But Sophie was another matter. She had always been Marilyn’s responsibility. He looked up at the light, wishing it would turn green, then lowered his passenger window. “Hi, Sophie.”
“Well, look, I know you’ve got to go. Just wanted to say how sorry I am about you and Marilyn. Does Harold know?”
“You and Marilyn, you know, being separated. So sorry to hear it.”
This was just great. “Uh . . . when did you hear that? From who?”
“Just now, over there.” She pointed to one of the stores. “From Marilyn at Odds-n-Ends, where she works.”
The light turned green, and the man in the car behind him tapped his horn.
“Better go.” Sophie waved and hurried back to the sidewalk.
Great, now the whole church will know.
It was only Friday, couldn’t even wait till Sunday. Jim sped through the light but looked for the first parking place to pull into. He put the car in park and got out, looked across the street at Odds-n-Ends.
Guess that’s how she plans to earn her own keep
, he thought.
Working at a retail store.
Why should that surprise him?
He was wrestling with himself about walking right over there to confront her when his phone rang. It was Lynn, his secretary. “Oh shoot,” he said, noticing the time. “Hey, Lynn.”
“Mr. Anderson, Dr. Franklin is here. Do you see the time?”
“Yes, how long’s he been there?”
“He just got here a few minutes ago.”
It wasn’t like Jim could say he’d been held up in traffic, not in River Oaks. “Tell him I’m so sorry. I’m just around the corner and will be there in three minutes. Offer him some coffee and chat with him till I arrive. Can you do that?”
“I suppose so.”
“Great.” He hung up. The confrontation would have to wait.
Later that evening, after grabbing a bite to eat at a Burger King, Jim pulled up to a Starbucks in Lake Mary. He couldn’t believe he had to eat his dinner at a fast food place, another consequence of Marilyn’s selfishness. Doug’s red Mazda was already in the parking lot. Jim was meeting him and Tom. That morning, when Jim and Tom had talked, Jim said he’d call Tom tonight. But as the day wore on, Jim decided this was something he should tell his sons in person.
Of course, Doug had pitched a fit about it. “Why can’t you just tell me now?” he’d said when Jim called him an hour ago. “And where’s Mom, anyway?”
“That’s what this is about,” Jim had said. “Just be there. Grab something to eat someplace and I’ll pay you back.” Doug still hadn’t gotten a part-time job. Another thing Jim had been after him about. Doug had grown up when their cash flow was running high. Jim realized now they had been way too easy on him. Doug was having a hard time accepting the idea that he was going to have to start paying his own way. As Jim walked into the Starbucks, Doug got up from a nearby table, his smartphone in hand.
“Is Tom here?” Jim asked.
“Not yet. Wait.” Doug looked out to the parking lot. “There he is. His car just pulled in.”
“Guess we can get in line,” Jim said.
“Yeah, I’m paying.”
“Uh . . . can you pay me back for dinner too? I ate at the mall food court. It was eight bucks.”
“Let me get some change when I pay for the coffee.”
“Hi, Dad,” Tom said as he joined them in line. “Sorry I’m late. Had to help Jean get the kids ready for—”
“You’re not late,” Jim said. “Go ahead and order. Looks like I’m buying.” They stepped up to the counter. Well, he and Tom did. Doug was somewhere else, his face glued to his cell phone: texting, Twittering, or Facebooking someone. “Doug, would you put that thing away?”
“You’re not going to be on that thing the whole time.”
“No, I just had to—well, never mind.” He got behind Tom.
After they’d gotten their drinks, they settled back at the table in the corner Doug had picked out earlier. “This won’t take long, guys,” Jim said. “We’ll probably be done before you get a chance to refill your coffee.”
“They don’t give out refills on caramel macchiatos, Dad.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Sounds like something big is up,” Tom said. “Are you okay? Is something wrong with Mom?”
Something was definitely wrong with Mom. “Well, let’s start with, I’m not okay. It’s nothing physical. Nobody is dying. But . . .” He looked down at the floor. How should he say this? “It’s about me and your mom.”
“You guys getting a divorce?” Doug blurted out.
“No,” Jim said, looking back up. “We’re not getting a divorce. At least . . . not now.”
“What?” Tom said. “Are you and Mom having some trouble?”
“That’s one way to put it,” Jim said. “The truth is, well . . . I came home yesterday to find she’d walked out. She’s left me.”
“You’re kidding,” Tom said.
“I wish I was.”
“That’s why she hasn’t been around the past two days?” Doug said.
Tom shook his head. “Where’d she go?”
“I don’t know very much at the moment. She left me a note, asked me to give her some space.”
“What does that mean?” Tom asked.
“I don’t know.”
“But you guys are both believers,” he said. “Why would she leave you? Have either one of you . . . started seeing someone else?”
“I haven’t,” Jim said.
“You’re saying Mom has?” Doug said.
“No . . . I don’t know,” Jim said. “Michele said there’s no one else.”
“C’mon, Dad.” Doug set his drink down. “Mom would never go out on you. There’s no way.”
“I hope not,” Jim said. “But I can’t figure out why she’d leave like this, with no warning.”
“You guys haven’t been fighting or anything?” Tom asked.
“No. No more than an occasional spat. Small stuff, like every couple has.”
Tom sat forward in his chair, released a sigh. “Wow. This is pretty intense. I’m glad neither of you are sick. That’s what I was expecting. But this . . .”
“It’s very intense,” Jim said. “I know.”
“So where’s Mom now?” Doug asked.
“I don’t know. Michele said she’s staying with a single woman somewhere in town. An apartment somewhere.”
“She won’t talk to you?” Tom said.
“No. Not now anyway. I’m waiting on a call from Michele. Hopefully, she’ll at least tell me where she’s at.”
“So Michele’s taking her side, I guess,” Tom said.
“Looks that way.”
“I guess that’s no surprise,” he said. “You want me to call her? See what I can find out?”
“You mean your mom?”
“That might help,” Jim said.
“Then again,” Doug added, “it might backfire. You know Michele.”
All three of them sat in silence a few moments, and each took a few sips of their drink. “This is really something,” Tom finally said. “Definitely didn’t see this coming. Jean’s not going to believe it.”
“I’m having a hard time believing it myself,” Jim said. “The only thing I know is, she says she’s been pretty unhappy for a long time.”
“I knew that,” Doug said. “You couldn’t tell?” He had almost a look of disgust on his face. Jim decided to let it drop.
“Well, I didn’t,” Tom said. “I don’t see what she has to be unhappy about.”
Doug just shook his head as if to say,
Jim knew Doug and Tom weren’t the best of friends. Tom had made it pretty clear he thought Doug was a lazy, spoiled brat. He had appealed to Jim several times, saying he didn’t understand why he and Marilyn coddled Doug so much. They had been a lot stricter with him and Michele growing up.
“Well, that’s about the size of it,” Jim said. “Needless to say, we could use your prayers.”
“Where do we go from here?” Tom said. “Is there a next step?”
“Honestly, Tom? I have no idea. I’m playing it totally by ear.”
“Do you think she’ll agree to go to counseling?” he asked.
“Not at our church,” Jim said. “In her note, she said she was going somewhere else for a while.”
“Man,” Tom said. “I just can’t believe it.”
Doug stood up. “Well . . . I guess I can. So are we done here?”
“Hey, Doug,” Tom said in a reprimanding voice.
“That’s okay,” Jim said, shaking his head. “Yeah, we’re done.”
Doug picked up his caramel macchiato and turned to leave. He stopped, turned around, and said, “I’ll tell you one thing. There’s no way Mom is seeing someone else. I’ll never believe that.”